Freedom Nathan is living her dream, writes Jenelle Burnell of the Waitomo News.
The 20-year-old lives independently, cooks, cleans, and even drives at times.
In fact, if you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t think she was blind. But from an early age, Freedom has lived in darkness.
She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (eye cancer) at just three months old, which resulted in the loss of an eye.
“I lost my other eye two weeks before I turned five and I’ve been completely blind ever since,” she says.
Fitted with prosthetics, Freedom had to learn to live without sight – a transition she believes wasn’t difficult to make at a young age.
“Being young I was still learning everything for the first time anyway, so I was at an age where I could be taught anything.
“I was still developing skills and learning how to read and write so Braille came into it easily.
“But, I remember colours and animals and the house I used to live in when I was little,” she recalls.
“I remember my mum and dad, and my older brothers and one of my younger sisters.”
Born in Tokoroa to Daphne Nathan and Hoka Luke Osbourne, Freedom is the middle child of six.
She spent her childhood on a farm in Taupo, with a four-year stint in Australia, before returning home.
Her parents are currently farm workers on Tiroa Station in Benneydale.
“Growing up for me was normal – well I saw it as normal,” says Freedom.
“I got in trouble like everyone else and had to do chores like everyone else.
“I remember riding a bike down a footpath while ‘left’ and ‘right’ and ‘pedal faster’ were being yelled at me.
“That’s when I was about seven or eight, now I’ve upgraded to a car.”
For Freedom, her blindness was never treated as an impediment.
“I was never allowed to play the old blind card,” she laughed, “never.”
Something Freedom believes helped shape who she is today.
While her parents are busy working on the farm, her uncle Tyson Nathan is Freedom’s main carer and supporter.
He says if Freedom’s family had wrapped her up more, she wouldn’t have accomplished so much.
“That’s what has made her the strong and independent person she is,” he says.
“It’s awesome to see she is doing things on her own and it’s an inspiration for us too.
“There are times when things get hard, but then I put myself in her shoes and realise there are people out there who have got it tougher, so you just need to find ways to carry on.”
Freedom agreed, saying it’s a motto she lives by.
“There’s always someone worse off than you, so I don’t look at blindness as a disability.”
After finishing her primary and intermediate schooling in Taupo, Freedom boarded at Homai Campus School in Auckland – a specialist school for children who are blind – while attending Manurewa High School.
“It was mum’s decision,” says Freedom.
“Dad was all for it too, but he didn’t want to leave me there.
“But it was the best option because of the resources.
“I went to school until I was 17 and then left to do a flatting programme, which helps people with vision impairments transition from school into flatting.
“I was in the programme for six months, but I wanted to come back home.
“I had everything I needed, but not my family. I was so far from home and I missed my family.”
When she’s home on the farm, Freedom spends her days hunting, cooking and driving cars.
“One day I asked my dad if I could drive and he said “yeah, I suppose you can”, so he let me drive home from work over the farm,” she says.
“To me, it was the feeling of being normal.
“My brothers were driving, and my sisters were starting to drive, and I felt left out.
“Some people think I’m just good for peeling spuds and washing dishes, but I can do more than that.”
Although Freedom has a “cruisy” outlook on life, it has not been without challenges.
She says being treated differently, particularly by shopkeepers, is a bugbear.
“It’s a challenge because I wonder what makes me different?
“That’s why I don’t walk around with a cane, because it fully identifies you as someone with a vision impairment.
“I didn’t want to be identified as being blind.”
However, these days with the introduction of modern technology, life is much easier for Freedom.
Her phone has become an extension as it connects her with the world.
“My phone has a voiceover and it tells me what’s on the screen, so I can swipe left or right and double tap for what I want.
“I even take photos and post them on Facebook.”
Freedom Nathan tells it like it is with an infectious sense of humour. She’s a farm girl who likes to go fishing and hunting with her cousins. See Freedom Nathan talk about life as part of the Question Time video series from
Your Way | Kia Roha and Attitude Live.
“You wouldn’t really think she was blind if you didn’t know her,” says Tyson.
“She’s really amazing.”
Tyson plays a large part in Freedom’s life, as she sees him as her mentor and role model.
“No matter what people said to him, he’s lived his life the way he wanted to and that’s a big inspiration for me,” says Freedom.
“My mum and dad are also my role models because without them, and the decisions they made, I wouldn’t be able to sit here today.
“I may not have agreed with some of their decisions, but in the long run I’m thankful and grateful we are still together.”
Freedom was recently appointed to a new Disabled Leadership Group.
Established by Life Unlimited (now known as Your Way |Kia Roha), the group of 13 will use their experiences to help inform the future direction of the organisation and the services it delivers.
It will have a hands-on role which includes reviewing the delivery of disability information and exploring new ideas for service improvement.
The group will also be responsible for testing and providing ongoing feedback on new initiatives.
Freedom is looking forward to the challenge and says it’s her goal to help strengthen the services available to those with disabilities.
“I think impairments of any kind need to be accepted more.
“People just need to be accepted for who they are. That would make life so much easier.”
Another goal was to live independently, which she recently achieved.
She lives by herself in Hamilton and enjoys the busy, city life, but still returns home regularly to spend time with family.
“One of my biggest goals is to live independently. It’s bad enough that I have to rely on people to drive me around, so I don’t want to rely on someone to live with,” she says.
“It’s been a pretty big step moving from the farm to Hamilton, but it’s been ‘mean’. It’s having the fear and being aware of it, but not letting it control you. Other than that, my life is pretty easy. I still get to drive every now and then but haven’t got to try a helicopter yet.
“My main goal is to be happy. Every day is different, so you have to look at things with an open mind.
“Life is one hell of a rollercoaster and I’m not ready for it to end.”
This article originally appeared in the Waitomo News.